Card idea tackles concussion issue

By Brenda Vowden

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The Blue Card trialed in Northland has generally received positive feedback.
The Blue Card trialed in Northland has generally received positive feedback.

It is never a good thing to be given a yellow card on the playing field - or a red one for that matter. But how about a blue card?

Brain Injury Association (BIA) Hawke's Bay is about to launch an initiative called "Concussion - a changing culture". The organisation is working with Hawke's Bay Rugby Football Union, Hawkes Bay Referees Association and Proactive Health to raise awareness around concussion in rugby and provide education presentations, with a view to launching the Blue Card Initiative next year.

The move follows on from a similar roll out in Northland in 2014, with Hawke's Bay joining a possible five regions to sign up for the scheme in 2017. Brain Injury Hawke's Bay chairman Brett Morris has a personal interest in initiating the programme.

"As an ex-rugby player and indeed having had a year off university with Post Concussion Syndrome, it is great to be involved in something like this and it is part of our role at BIA to carry out education to help brain injuries arising in the first place."

Brett says concussion is a traumatic brain injury although usually at the lower end of the spectrum.

"But as I know only too well, if players don't deal with it properly, the consequences can be more serious."

Northland's inaugural Blue Card 2014 season has been reviewed and 17 blue cards issued with the scheme were "generally well received with positive feedback", Brett says.

"From speaking to their local BIA, the only surprise was how positively the local players accepted the scheme."

Under existing laws, a referee can intervene if they feel a player is concussed, but even if sent from the field of play, this would not trigger a stand down period and theoretically the player could play the next day, as they would not have to be seen by a GP within 24 hours or cleared by a GP after the 21-day stand down period as they do under the Blue Card scheme.

"Referees are concerned about making mistakes with the issuing of blue cards, but we feel it is better to err on the side of caution and this is why, here in Hawke's Bay, we want the clubs to commit to the initiative before seeking to introduce the scheme so that the referees can feel secure their decisions on issuing blue cards will not be challenged." Brett says referees are also concerned they are being asked to make medical judgments when not qualified - "which is understandable".

To overcome this issue, when clubs commit to the scheme, training sessions will be provided for referees - "to talk them though using the laid down warning signs and questions to be asked of any player suspected of being concussed before issuing the blue card".

"Essentially we have a great game which is part of the social fabric and DNA of New Zealand and to ensure the game we know and love will be played for generations to come we need to take action to protect the players, effectively from themselves."

In the UK they are talking of "emasculating" junior rugby by banning tackling. Brett says if we want to avoid these things happening to the game we need to introduce measures that preserve the game but take some of the risk out.

"To put it in context, we still drive cars, even though many people are killed or injured in car accidents.

"Instead of banning cars we introduce laws and safety features, with the Blue Card initiative being part of the process as far as rugby is concerned."

Since putting the idea forward to the Hawke's Bay Rugby Union and Referees Association, the BIA has had their full support and commitment which Brett says is reassuring.

"This has enabled us to put together our presentation on "Concussion - a changing culture". We are taking the education further than has been done in Northland, where they concentrated on introducing the Blue Card initiative.

"We are starting from the perspective of the need to change the culture surrounding concussion if we are going to make the system work for players, coaches and referees."

-"Concussion - a changing culture", concussion and management, physiotherapist Steven Bates, introducing the Blue Card Initiative, open invite to all rugby clubs in Hawke's Bay and Central Hawke's Bay, Wednesdays, 6-7.30pm, July 6, Havelock North Rugby Clubrooms; July 13, Hastings Rugby and Sports Clubrooms; July 27, Napier Old Boys Marist Clubrooms.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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